Lights, Camera, Brooklyn!

Harvey Keitel
Harvey Keitel

On the day before Thanksgiving, at the corner of Prospect Place and Washington Avenue, Harvey Keitel put back the driver’s seat of a vintage ambulance and caught a little shut-eye. Looking like his role as the similarly vice-ridden cop in the 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, Mr. Keitel awaited set-up for his next scene as Lieutenant Gene Hunt on the ABC show Life On Mars.

Plenty of Brooklynites have humorous anecdotes about the celebrities they’ve seen filming on location all around the borough, and, of course, in Manhattan, too. Lately, though, it seems like there’s a film crew at almost every turn, and blogs like are there to capture images and stories from various sets around the borough.

One such set, for the film Synecdoche, NY, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and now in theaters, was shot on location in Dumbo in 2007. Recently filming in the borough were: Brooklyn’s Finest, starring Richard Gere; a remake of The Taking of Pelham, One Two Three, starring Denzel Washington; Hungry Ghosts, a film directed by Michael Imperioli (who also stars in Life on Mars); and Julie and Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron. A few other television shows have shot recent scenes in Brooklyn, including The Real World, Ugly Betty, Rescue Me and Flight of the Conchords.

Modern-day Brooklyn first reached America’s mainstream consciousness via Spike Lee’s now classic movies like Do The Right Thing and Crooklyn. But these days, a vast spectrum of studio films, network television and independent production companies are shooting on location in Brooklyn, thanks to the city’s creative boom and incentives offered by the mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting.

“When we started with the Bloomberg administration in 2002, the problem was productions were going to other parts of the world, mostly Canada, to fake New York in another city,” said Katherine Oliver, the mayor’s commissioner of film. “So it’s wonderful now to have filmmakers shoot their television shows and feature films in New York and fake other places.”

Ms. Oliver added that in a scene shot for Julie and Julia, Prospect Park was used to fake Paris in the summertime.

The much anticipated Notorious, due out Jan. 16, was shot earlier this year on location in Bedford-Stuyvesant and chronicles the life of rapper Notorious B.I.G. For Biggie’s die-hard fans, Fox Searchlight has created a video blog about the making of the movie.

“We shot in the exact same neighborhood, the exact same streets were he worked, where he sold drugs, the same streets where he started in hip-hop,” director George Tillman Jr. says in an interview on the site. “Actually, we shot in the same homes, the same apartment buildings, where he lived with his mom.”

Brooklyn, he adds, is purposefully a character in the film.

“No matter what you do, if you really shoot in New York people can tell,” added cast member Marc John Jefferies, who plays Junior Mafia’s Lil Cease.

Most New Yorkers would agree, and over the last six years the mayor’s office has set up incentive programs to bring more productions to the city, like the Made In New York tax incentive, vendor discounts, free marketing determined by the size of the project’s budget, free permits and free police assistance. “All of that represents a significant savings on production even aside from the tax credit,” which is 35 percent, Ms. Oliver said.

“When you are shooting multiple locations throughout the city, getting from one to another is a total nightmare,” said Colleen Ryan, a producer for independent video production services company Raw Media. I have had shoots in midtown; when you have to send someone to get equipment or other necessary items it can take hours to navigate through the traffic.”

Ms. Ryan, who recently worked on a pilot for Fox shot in Williamsburg, noted that it might not generally be cheaper to film in Brooklyn, but that “everything was more convenient and we were able to get a lot more locations shot in a day. Another plus, better and cheaper food options for the crew and half of the people working on set lived in Brooklyn.”

Brooklyn is also home to an emerging group of shows, centered on borough residents, and made not for television, but for the Internet. The Burg, a sitcom about hipsterdom in Williamsburg, and The All-For-Nots, a Brooklyn indie rock spoof of the Monkees, were snapped up by new media studio Vuguru earlier this year, a company owned by ex-Disney chief Michael Eisner. The casts and creators of both shows recently spoke on a panel at the Paley Center for Media called “A Sitcom Revolution: Taking it to the Web.” (Tonight’s Paley Center program is entitled “Same City, New Borough: The Real World Does Brooklyn.”)

Along with the production boom, emerging also is a new Brooklyn-centric consciousness in film, detached from the iconicity of Manhattan. The lineage is a relatively short but enduring one (think Cosby Show 20 years ago: the Huxtables lived in Brooklyn Heights) that continues to sprout branches: Soon, The Real World, with eight cast members residing in a loft on Red Hook’s Pier 41, will beam the borough weekly into the homes of teens and tweens nationwide.

And whether filming for YouTube, television or the big screen, film production has brought local jobs not just to out-of-town actors, but to Brooklynites. A partnership between the city and nonprofit Brooklyn Workforce Innovations has trained 150 New Yorkers for free to be production assistants over 13 four-week cycles. A new public service announcement that the Office of Film will start running next week thanks New Yorkers for hosting film crews in their neighborhoods. One version of the ad reads: “Rebecca is a camera assistant and lives in Brooklyn. She is one of the 100,000 of your neighbors employed by the television industry.”

“It was totally by chance that we started interviewing these people and the majority of them are living in Brooklyn,” Ms. Oliver, the film commissioner, said. “To your point about the creative community there, it’s amazing.”

This article originally appeared on

Nicole Brydson Written by:

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